Skull base diseases

What is the skull base?

The skull base, or otherwise known as the cranial base, is the area of the skull where all the major blood vessels and nerves enter or exit. Skull base disorders tend to cause problems with one or more of these structures, such as tingling, numbness or pain when a nerve is affected.

What sorts of disorders affect the skull base?

The skull base is a very complex area of the body that can be affected by benign and malignant tumours, infections, congenital problems, or trauma.

Does skull base surgery require special training?

With the complexity and diversity of disorders that affect the skull base, a well-rounded skull base surgeon needs to have the skills to adapt to these situations. This means that elements of advanced ear surgery, sinus surgery and head and neck cancer surgery are required to be able to provide a ‘360° view’ on the approach to the problem and also the potential treatments. Brisbane based Dr Sommerville and Dr Slaughter has had the benefit of training in all of these areas, as well as the added benefit of Dr Sommerville having extensive training with Professor Giovanni Danesi in northern Italy, one of the most accomplished skull base surgeons in the world.

Is there a particular type of skull base disease that is more common in Australia?

Yes. Australia, and Queensland in particular, has the highest level of skin cancers and this can sometimes present with complications affecting the skull base. A common scenario is when a patient will have a seemingly small skin cancer, but also new weakness, tingling or numbness. This may indicate involvement of a large nerve by the tumour. The treatment of the skin tumour would need to include the nerve in order to achieve a good outcome. The unique prominence of skin cancer in Australia means that we need to be vigilant about any unusual symptoms such as these that may indicate skull base involvement. Fortunately, our ability to treat these problems is improving all the time with many patients now being able to be offered potentially curative operations when previously the situation was thought to be irretrievable.

Are there any other specialists involved in the treatment of skull base disorders?

Definitely. Skull base surgery in Brisbane requires the coordination of ENT surgeons with skull base training such as Dr Sommerville and or Dr Slaughter, neurosurgeons with skull base training, and plastic reconstructive surgeons. Other critical members of the treatment team include radiologists, radiation and chemotherapy doctors, pathologists, and allied health professionals such as speech pathologists.